Early applications of electric aircraft may impact smaller airports and heliports first. As new vertiports are built, small general aviation airports and existing heliports will also be hosting AAM services as capacity becomes available.
There is an opportunity to optimize the use of these assets and to enhance mobility options at the local level. For travelers taking a flight to a farther destination and using AAM to reach a larger airport from their neighborhood, electric aircraft will be a fast and convenient vehicle enabling them to literally fly over the roadway traffic.
Airport operators should assess this emerging demand and determine the best way to address it. For capacity, safety and security considerations, many commercial service airports accommodating eVTOL services might want to consider a “landside” vertiport, which would be separate from their main aircraft operating area.
Such vertiports could be conveniently located on top of their parking garage or consolidated rental car facility, while lower-volume airports may choose to use their existing airfield and terminal apron.
“There is a new airport/vertiport planning playbook to develop here, and our team has actually developed the two guidance documents to address this need: Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Research Reports 236 and 243 published by the Transportation Research Board (TRB),” Le Bris said.
With ACRP Research Report 236, WSP developed the first practice-ready guidance document on electric aircraft and hydrogen technology at airports for the TRB, a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
WSP also has conducted follow-up research on the implications of the emergence of AAM for aviation facilities, as well as the future of ground access and how these different modes could interconnect at airports.
At the federal level, the AAM Coordination and Leadership Act was signed into law in October, and it calls for the U.S. Department of Transportation to organize a broad coalition of stakeholders and work to tackle these issues across stakeholders, agencies, jurisdictions and disciplines.
Airports need to consider several factors when approaching electric aviation, including how they are preparing for a wider electrification of their services, and how that connects to hydrogen technologies.
“The compatibility of electric aircraft and hydrogen technologies should be addressed when considering the broader ‘electrification of everything’ and the emergence of the hydrogen economy, as other activities and functions of the airport, such as ground vehicles and building cooling and heating systems, are planned to transition to electricity or hydrogen as well,” Le Bris said.
There also are regulatory policies to consider, as electric charging and hydrogen infrastructure systems are currently not eligible for traditional federal grant programs such as AIP (Airport Improvement Program) or VALE (Voluntary Airport Low Emissions), and the implementation of electric aircraft will impact traditional airport fuel revenues as well.